Are Too Many Parents Selling Girl Scout Cookies?

Matt Slocum/AP Photo

Girl Scout cookie season is in full swing and it's no surprise that boxes of Thin Mints, Samoas and Trefoils are selling like hotcakes. Approximately 200 million boxes of Girl Scout cookies are sold around the country each year, but how many of those are actually sold by Scouts?

The New York Times first raised the issue in a blog post this week, asking how often it's the parents of the Girl Scouts hawking the sweet treats, not the Scouts themselves.

While some troops sell door-to-door or park outside of local supermarkets and other highly-trafficked areas around town, it has become increasingly common to see parents and adults taking on the cooking-selling duties, bringing the order forms to the office and coercing colleagues to buy, buy, buy.

"It's a constant source of conversation," said Michelle Tompkins, manager of media relations for Girl Scouts of the USA. "We love that the parents want to help their kids. There's no malintent, but it is selling the kids a little short, not letting them learn the skills they want to teach."

The Girl Scout cookie fundraising effort dates back to 1917, when troops first baked cookies and sold them in the high school cafeteria. Selling the cookies is supposed to be a business and entrepreneurial exercise for the Scouts, where they learn five major skills - goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills and ethics, according to the Girl Scout cookies website.

Parents are allowed to "assist," the website says, but "it is the girl who makes the sale, sets learning and sales goals, and learns the entrepreneurial skills."

There are no statistics on the number of boxes sold by parents versus their kids, but Tompkins says assisting and supporting the Scouts is the message the national organization conveys to local councils, who relay it down to troop leaders, Scouts and parents who are in the trenches.

In many ways, Girl Scout cookie sales are no different than any other youth activities in which parents get involved and invested, from homework projects to bake sales to soccer games or selling wrapping paper at the holidays.

As with all of these activities, there's undeniably a fine line between "assisting," i.e., supervising your Scout, shuttling her to deliver the orders, or coaching her on a sales pitches, and selling cookies by the case to colleagues in the cafeteria.

It is possible to help Scouts meet their sales goals and make it a learning experience, Tompkins says. Instead of just bringing in the order form to the office, some creative parents send emails to co-workers asking if they're interested in buying cookies and then schedule a time for the Scout to call them and make the sales pitch.

Many successful female business leaders credit the program for giving them an early entrepreneurial start, but that's because they followed the rules and sold them the old-fashioned way.

The bottom line?

"Participate, please," Tompkins says. "But please let your child do their own selling."